An Ethical Dilemma Drawn From Real Life- Share Your Thoughts On This ScenarioThis is a real life incident that occurred in a small town in Poland during World War Two. It is a very interesting story and raises some interesting questions.
A very young Polish woman, perhaps 18 or 19 years old, is the radio dispatcher and ticket seller at a railway station. Poland is occupied by the Nazi German army and many of the trains that pass through the station are German trains carrying troops and weapons to the Russian front. The small town is near Warsaw and so the station she is managing is rather important. The town is surrounded by a forest in which guerrilla fighters often hide and the train tracks run through the forest.
The Polish woman has a secret and is leading a double life- she's a non combatant member of the Polish resistance. She runs one of their safe houses in her house and does things such as hide Jews in her attic and ba
One night, a group of guerrilla fighters seeking to blow up a German train come to the station and pull up train rails and lay explosives on the tracks right next to her booth. She begs them not to do it at her station. She asks them to go a few kilometers off into the woods, so that she won't be blamed for the explosion. She will be blamed either for passively failing to stop it as a dispatcher on duty at the time of the attack OR because the Germans will actually think that she was the one who planted the explosives (or at least helped plant them.) She tells them that not only will she be inevitably executed by firing squad for not preventing the train crash but that the German soldiers might go into the town to kill a few innocent Polish civilians as punishment or retaliation for a guerrilla attack. She has seen them do this before and kill utterly innocent bystanders, either because they fantasized that they were in on it or as intimidation to guerrillas and emotional blackmail of the you-kill-one-of-ours-we-kill-ten-of-yours variety. She once even saw them drag a man suspected of being a guerrilla onto the platform and torture him in public by slowly drilling into his spine with an electric drill to send a message to everyone watching. Maybe she feared that the same thing would happen to her if an explosion occurred on her watch.
The guerrillas ignore her. Maybe they are too exhausted to go into the woods. Maybe they are too lazy and just don't care. Maybe they think she is exaggerating and don't take her seriously. Maybe they are too jaded by now and think civilian casualties are part of the game. Whatever the reason, they refuse to lay the explosives on the tracks in the forest.
The radio dispatcher is torn between being a dead patriot and a live traitor. She wants the train derailed - but knows that she'll be signing her own death warrant if any harm comes to it. On top of that, she's not even sure if the next train will be a German train; it might easily be a regular transportation train or a commercial train. It occurs to her that her mother and two younger sisters will be utterly destitute without her.
She sees a train coming over the horizon and makes her decision. She runs to warn it and gives the signal to stop. The train turns out to be carrying wounded Italian soldiers from the front. She doesn't speak Italian but manages to tell them that the tracks have been tampered with. The Italians are touched and horrified and very warmly thank and embrace her.
The guerrillas realize she betrayed them and saved the train and attack her at the first available opportunity. They wave a gun in her face and threaten to shoot her dead- and nearly do it. She barely manages to talk her way out of it.
Did she do the right thing in saving an enemy train? Was she justified in her act of betrayal of her own people? Was she right in refusing to sacrifice her own life for the cause? As a general principle, are you justified in doing something like this to save your life?
Nota bene- this woman is still alive and nearly 90 years old. She's had a very happy and productive life. She married a very good man, had a wonderful marriage that lasted from about 1945 to his death in about 1990, had three children and four grandchildren with him and worked as a teacher and social worker. She is very devoted to family and charity work and so are her children and grandchildren. Everyone who knows her likes her and her children and grandchildren are all accomplished, intelligent, funny, educated and extraordinarily kind people. She's a lifelong Roman Catholic who still attends Mass every Sunday.
None of them would be here if it weren't for her act of collaboration with the enemy.